This past Sunday was Week 11 in my class on the Gospel according to the Minor Prophets. We looked at Malachi, whose name means “my messenger.” Nothing else about him is known, as he does not identify any of his ancestors or any of the rulers in power during his ministry. Despite the lack of clear historical references, it seems probable that Malachi was prophesying sometime after the rebuilding of the temple in 516 B.C. but before the return of Ezra (458 B.C.) or Nehemiah (445 B.C.).
Whereas Judah’s problem before the exile was idolatry, upon their return their biggest problem was apathy. The second temple was a pale reflection of the Solomonic one, they remained under the political control of Persia and conditions in the land remained challenging. They were questioning Yahweh’s love for them (Malachi 1:2), dishonoring God with blemished sacrifices (Malachi 1:8), withholding their giving (Malachi 3:8-10) and claiming that it is vain to serve Yahweh (Malachi 3:14). Using a series of six “disputations,” Malachi writes to (1) rebuke Israel’s apathy, (2) recall the people to covenant loyalty, and (3) reassure God’s people of the coming Day of the Lord.
Malachi is especially concerned with the failure of the priests to lead the people in proper worship. Not only are they offering blemished sacrifices, but they are failing to teach God’s people His ways (Malachi 1:6-14). But there will come a day when God sends his messenger to prepare the way for the Lord to come suddenly to his temple (Malachi 3:1). Meanwhile, God’s people should remain faithful to Mosaic covenant in anticipation of God sending Elijah in advance of the great Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:4-6).
After studying Malachi, I would summarize the theological big idea as this: God calls his people to repent of our apathy towards his proper worship and fear his name in anticipation of the great and fearful Day of the LORD. The failure of the priesthood points forward to our need for a perfect high priest, one who will obey in every detail (Hebrews 7:23-28). God has already sent his messenger John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 1:2-4), who came suddenly to the temple and brought judgment (Mark 11:15-19). And just as God’s people in Malachi’s day were instructed to look back to their covenant with Yahweh in anticipation of his future coming, so we today should look back to the work of Jesus in establishing the new covenant in anticipation of his return to consummate his promises.
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Since 2006 Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He is also a member of Christ’s Covenant Church, where he serves on the Preaching Team, leads a small group, and teaches regularly in their Life Education classes.
Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology, which is a forum for all matters pertaining to biblical theology (and some entirely unrelated).
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